ebook reading experience

December 5, 2011

Despite my previous blog about e-books and my entire point of view on them, this weekend I read my first e-book. And I *loved* the story. didn’t love the format so much.

Theoretically, I adore e-books (and absolutely stand by my assertion that publishers should make them wildly available). I like having my entire library encapsulated in this little tablet I can take anywhere with me (and that I don’t lose if my house burns down). I like having it all organized and stored and portable and nicely digital. I like the ease of holding a little tablet even if I’m reading a 500 page book (especially if I’m reading a 500 page book).

But tablets don’t feel the way books feel. When I open up my copy of Spindle’s End a scent wafts up from the pages that contains the story without any words – the wild, untamable power and the strength and the turmoil and the beauty of it.

My word memory is also very spatial – by that I mean, where words are on the page is all wrapped up with my memory of my favorite moments (the most haunting, amazing metaphor in Spindle’s End is about 3/4 of the way through the book, half way down the page on the left hand side).

Reading on a tablet was informative and I know the story now. But it isn’t sensual; there aren’t deeper connections formed between me and the words and the characters because it’s a very stark experience.

A handy experience when traveling because I usually need to take 3-5 books with me. A useful experience for gathering information about whether I like a story or not (by that first read). A practical experience when you need a library (or an oft referred to pdf) at your fingertips. But not the deep, lasting experience of a book. Stories and knowledge need tangible context to truly reside in us.

Jenny: Honestly, what is it about computers that bothers you so much?
Giles: The smell.
Jenny: Computers don’t smell, Rupert.
Giles: I know. Smell is the most powerful memory trigger there is. A certain flower or whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell–musty and rich. The knowledge gained from computers has no texture, no context. It’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be smelly.

Buffy – I Robot… You Jane

ETA: I think e-books will be a niche market like audio books. Obviously bigger than audio books, but I don’t think the publishing industry needs to be so concerned or fight the tide so hard. People who love books aren’t going to stop loving books.

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4 responses to “sensory deprivation

  1. kel

    have to agree…the little bit of reading that i’ve done on an ipad isn’t as enjoyable. i still enjoy tangible pages. there’s something much more jarring about having to “scroll” a page than just turning one…i don’t understand how or why, but it is for me. and it sometimes concerns me, how we are transitioning to these electronic means…and how much it makes things seem more transient, less tangible, less REAL in a sense. i wonder how much that contributes to our disconnect from the world and reality at times. curious.

    • Annie

      I agree, I’ve wondered what residual effects this disconnected-ness might have sociologically. I don’t have any ideas, but I wonder.

  2. Wyndie

    eBooks are a shallow reading experience. Paper books are warm and comforting, but reading from an iPad is about as soothing as fluorescent lighting. I packed a paper book with me on a recent trip to the Caribbean.

    I have both a Nook and an iPad, but haven’t been using the reading devices like I thought. I prefer paper books for takeoffs and landings. The whole idea of powering down my book for take-offs and landings is odd. And not to mention that at the beach I certainly wouldn’t take electronics with me. No worries about scratching from sand, sweat or ocean damage.

    • Annie

      how fantastic are you?!
      Also, I totally agree! I love my Kindle Fire but I’ve had it less than a month and I can already tell I’m going to use the reader a lot less than I expected. There are times and places when an e-reader is more convenient, but I hadn’t even thought of powering down for take off and landing. There’s definitely a lot of places where it’s less convenient too.